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Moral of the story: Don’t go to your neighbor’s parties if you live in a named building in New York City.

12. Audrey’s Door – Sarah Langan

Some of this reminded me of Rosemary’s Baby and The Sentinel. Move in to the wrong apartment building, especially by yourself, and all hell breaks loose. Or, more accurately, the slowly creeping hell breaks loose. Audrey is in the middle of dealing with a break up and moves into The Breviary and finds that she has weirdo neighbors and fun new building compulsions – just the thing for an architect.

Finny is a different brand of slowly creeping horror. The cute kind. The adorable creeping horror.

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It’s certainly not a “Dance Epidemic,” baby.

17. The Depths: The Evolutionary Origins of the Depression Epidemic – Jonathan Rottenberg

One of the most important sentiments that I found in this book is that humans “are not wired for bliss.” Rottenberg makes the argument that it isn’t normal to constantly be happy; it’s actually an evolutionary detriment to be happy all the time. And we as a species would totally not survive if we were constantly happy. Somebody has to notice the cliff instead of just happily whistling as they walk right off it.

The Depths presents its discussion of mood science with equal helpings of scientific detail and patient anecdotes and it was immensely useful to me. I love that Rottenberg is discussing mood. It seems like a really obvious aspect of depression to discuss, but it hasn’t been that prevalent in my own readings. I’ve often felt like whatever I was experiencing wasn’t “enough” to be considered depression because I’m otherwise pretty functional. I’ve even been told I’m “high functioning” by a counseling professional. I have had those weird days where I can’t stop crying and I don’t know why, but I’ve never gotten to the stage where I literally could not get out of bed, not even in acute grief-based depressive periods. When you aren’t similar enough to some of the narratives or symptom descriptions, and you feel like you just don’t fit in anywhere in the spectrum…it’s a strange situation. In The Depths, I see more of myself (and someone else I know, that was weird, seeing someone else in a depression narrative more clearly than I saw myself) and the trajectories that I face that I know are depression and involve consistent low mood. I also saw a lot of my own coping mechanisms and of course that makes one feel a little better about the path they’re taking. It meant a lot to me to see these experiences and to be able to characterize these situations in more logical terms. I’m not the most dramatic person, I like practicality, and I enjoyed The Depths.

Ozy and Danger are not trapped in a prison of their own minds, I stuck them in a laundry basket. They coped by gnawing and whistling at me until their cages were clean. Use those rootless teeth! It’s evolutionarily advantageous and a laundry basket is no Château d’If.

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The body of an angel and the head of a wood owl

  1. My Best Friend’s Exorcism – Grady Hendrix

Hendrix has definitely made some novelist progress since Horrorstor. There are many details in My Best Friend’s Exorcism that really work – the descriptions of Charleston and summer activities in the south in general, the extreme specifics of cassette destruction, and lots and lots of fluids (although I can’t say I ever associated pickles with cadaver labs and I frankly don’t want to, I’ve never thought formalin and pickles had a similar scent either). The description of Margaret in her bed was stomach churning. And I very deeply understood what Abby’s mom was on about when she told her that her rich friends would use her as a scapegoat. I understand that position better than I ever wanted to, the powerful trying to keep the powerless in their place. The book also reads like a shot and I did stay up to keep going to find a non-paranoia inducing scene the second night I was reading it. I have very specific memories of the first time I watched The Exorcist that were invoked reading this (damn it, Regan-me similarities, you still bother me!) and those never make me feel comfortable going to sleep. My imagination is very strong and will not be denied.

On the other hand, the sense that I was being told too many things bothered me at several points. These characters were stronger than the ones in Horrorstor, but they’re still being written with a sense of remove – like they were conceptualized as types and not people and there’s some fight against that but the distance won. The exorcism itself also didn’t work for me; it seemed to go by really quickly and there was a lot of time and build up of what was going on with Gretchen that just didn’t square with the way the exorcism happened. Maybe if WHAM! had been involved instead of Phil Collins. You know Phil Collins made some kind of deal…you know it.

“The power of Phil is not compelling, Belvedere! I didn’t even like ‘Sussudio’!” Pickles will not be exorcised. She was never possessed, so it makes sense.

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“Is this heaven?”

44. Blood Farm – Sam Siciliano

The cover of this 1988 horror trade paperback is awesome. The title is perfect for an “Iowa Gothic” as it is labeled. That is where the awesome ends, unfortunately.

There are some strong images, the hippie driving the hearse is an amiable fellow, the damsel in distress is damsely and very 70s with the hitchhiking and such, and the highways covered in snow are aptly described. I also appreciated the very 1970s aesthetic of the apartment interior description… It falls apart in terms of the horror. It’s brutally obvious and gets rapey and well, the setting basically means nothing (kind of like the extremely cold Southern Gothic I read earlier this year, Who Made Stevie Crye? [sub-disclosure, I remembered the title as “What Makes Stevie Crye?” and that’s probably because a lot of the book made me want to cry(e)]) and that disappointed me a lot because I’m Iowan. There’s lots of Gothic to extract from the Iowa winter landscape and farms. I’ve seen some desolation, perhaps it is up to me to properly “Iowa Gothic.” To be fair, the one time I tried clove cigarettes and didn’t inhale seems like a more apt description of “Iowa Gothic” for me, which doesn’t bode well for the genre.

Danger Crumples and Horace engage in a tense scene from their Guinea Pig Gothic drama where they are friends and part of the same long lasting herd, but sometimes Danger is compelled by his dementia to be not friends and Horace wants the will re-written so he can inherit the unholy legacy of having as many little toys as Danger Crumples. It’s a real page turner. A flip book.

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Don’t go in the basement.

11. The Ridge – Lisa W. Cantrell

“There’s something evil underneath the house” is the theme of both Lisa W. Cantrell books I’ve read. The third one I have, which attracted me entirely because of the evil pumpkin gnawing on a banister on the cover, is also about something evil underneath a house, well, a “manse.” This time the house is a monastery for black magic monks. The black magic entities do not like this young girl named Sara who has an assassin for a father, who now must take care of her since the rest of the family died in the black magic accident; which makes it sound like maybe we’ve got a case of The Professional meets Amityville here- it’s more like Grosse Pointe Blank meets Ghoulies, but, worse than that would actually turn out. This assassin has less than half the charisma of John Cusack, for starters, I don’t care how many braided belts he has.

Thaddeus, awaiting anything actually scary happening in The Ridge under a pillow. He’s got a long wait. Through all the pages. All of them!

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Cooper: “Well my symptoms suggest the onset of malaria, but I’ve never felt better in my life.”

54. Just Like Someone Without Mental Illness Only More So – Mark Vonnegut

If you went to undergrad where I went to undergrad, you could be essentially excommunicated from the English department if you didn’t love Kurt Vonnegut Jr. The unwavering adoration for his literary genius seems like the kind of thing he wouldn’t have appreciated, but it was the status quo. I never got into any deadly pretentious conversations about Vonnegut, thankfully, and I do love his work, but I do not love most of the people who love his work enough to be important in the English department social scene. And I had no idea until I read this memoir by his son Mark that he couldn’t write for long periods of time (I…didn’t do the supplemental reading…sometimes…) because of depressive bouts. Woo!

One of the major things going for this memoir is that it doesn’t really offer any perfect solutions. There are a lot of mental illness-based memoirs where you read through certain situations and then suddenly the person writing is “fine” because they got married or are in a new relationship and I just can’t really stand those bits. They’re not that helpful. Mark Vonnegut’s strategy involves trying to find a balance that will help him avoid severe episodes and it’s not just “being married” or “working too much,” it’s obvious that many aspects go into recovering and trying to stay functional. He also demonstrates how easy it is for a psychotic break to happen to a successful person – see, you can be successful or creative or both or also a pediatrician or not and bad shit can still take you down, it’s not a personal failure to have mental illness. Vonnegut also makes sure to make it clear that being perfectly mentally well is not really a thing either, and I like that. It takes that whole “aspire to happiness” bullshit down; in my opinion, taking that down is half the battle for maintaining levels of functionality.

“Life is no way to treat an animal, not even a [guinea pig].” – Kurt Vonnegut, “I Love You, Madame Librarian” (inthesetimes.com/article/903)

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“I take care of the place while the Master is away.”

13. Those Across the River – Christopher Buehlman

This is some Southern Gothic. Those Across the River is beautifully written, with lots of images that stick with you long after the reading is over. The dust, the stickiness, the pigs, the woods, that one guy with his little shack who occasionally reminded me of a way smarter Torgo… there’s just so much here. And I loved the results of the central mystery. It wasn’t quite what I expected, and I ended up pleasantly surprised.

Finny would save Ozma from anything, if he could get across the pumpkin.

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If only we could do something about those wacky billionaires.

46. Stolen – Kelley Armstrong

Adding witches, vampires, demons, a mad scientist, and a sadistic billionaire to her urban fantasy (but this one’s mainly set in an isolated compound) series may have seemed like a good idea at the time for Kelley Armstrong. Second book in the series, throw in everything. And in fact, the Otherworld books are usually fun to read regardless of how many types of supernatural characters have been thrown in – besides, Charlaine Harris did the same thing and it happened on Buffy and Monster Squad and there are so many, many more. If one supernatural thing is real, they all must be! Here’s a kitchen sink for your trouble! It does get tiresome having to learn everyone’s powers over and over – oh you’re not all demon, you’re just half demon and a jerk- okay. On something else, you’d be super tortured and whining about not being able to find love or something…

In the context of Stolen, which came directly after Bitten – a novel dealing entirely with werewolves – it’s quite the expansion on what I thought was going to be a series dealing with the issues of one main species. And in the setting it has – some jerk billionaire uses his resources to capture and hunt different supernatural species, it makes it work. Armstrong’s female characters are very strong and very capable and I appreciate that. Even the imprisoned witches and Elena the werewolf are resourceful and making the effort to make do with their circumstances while finding a way out. It’s far more realistic than panicking and waiting for male characters to help them out…and sometimes it seems like stories have to be set in a fully supernatural universe for that to be truly understood.

Ozma, planning her escape from the couch full of pumpkins.

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“I knew a man like you once. He was wonderfully handsome and strong and brave. He lasted almost a week.”

56. Harvest Home – Thomas Tryon

The story this book tells has been imitated enough that I knew exactly where we were heading. Like Deathstalker, I’ve seen it all before and could shake my eighties haircut with hubris at it (if I had an eighties haircut). And really, the problem of the main character is hubris. He thinks he’s smart enough to figure out what’s really going on in Cornwall Coombe and stamp out those “old ways” he keeps hearing about. He thinks. He’s no rural sexpot postmaster, or frustrated outsider who should really go to college, and he’s certainly no blind elderly neighbor who just goes with the flow. No, he’s Ned, incredibly pompous narrator, so he goes forth into the corn-based fray (watch out though, corn will sneak up on you when you least expect it), with all the self-righteousness and obsession he can muster.

Finny, you don’t want to cross the Widow Peregrine when she’s looking up at you like that. Don’t get sassy.

 

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Act 4 Hope is a Demon Bitch – Hamlet 2

13. Unholy Ghost: Writers on Depression – Nell Casey, ed.

To an extent, shorter essays can help make the symptoms, the coping mechanisms, and the general feeling of depression much more comprehensible. When reading longer memoirs I’ve had a harder time finding pieces of what I experience and part of that is just the lack of differing viewpoints. A first person story is never going to have the thoughts of the person watching the one with depression, the friend or significant other trying to understand what they’re going through or helping them, and that’s not enough when trying to root through all the possible rabbit holes of information on the disease. It’s not enough to know the pain of one person, even if there are bits of that pain in all persons with depression. I’m very glad the Unholy Ghost collection was put together because of all of the viewpoints represented.

In the first essay, “A Delicious Placebo” by Virginia Heffernan, I found the description of her endlessly trying to get to the root of her depression incredibly jarring. It hadn’t occurred to me that finding more and more information about Why wouldn’t fix the situation or stop much of anything. I’m used to research, I’m used to figuring things out as a method for solving problems, I am not used to simply accepting that there is a problem to be coped with instead of fixed. Another essay I found incredibly useful was Meri Nana-Amah Danquah’s “Writing the Wrongs of Identity,” in which she mentions that “For every twelve joys, I had twenty-five sorrows… So much wasted time.” I can relate to that way more than I like.

Another aspect of depression that came up for me when reading these essays was class. There are certain classes of people who are not allowed to admit to themselves or say to others that they have depression. They don’t have money or time to deal with it the way someone of a different class would. They basically have to pretend that there’s nothing wrong with them and if that becomes impossible, they feel weak and are presumably seen by others of the same class as weak. And there is a lot of class warfare in this country that goes under the radar because people don’t even realize they’re being classist. I am sort of in between classes for a few reasons and I’ve found through dealing with my depression that those class barriers when you can’t “perform” are as solid as a steel door. If we want people to be able to get the help they really need, we as a country need to admit that healthcare is a right and that all illnesses are illnesses, not personal failings. No one asked to have their brain broken. No one.

Ozma displays extraordinary self-care and also owner-care skills by grooming on top of a pumpkin mid-photoshoot.

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